Research Request: Innovation Districts?


As part of your membership benefits, the Alliance staff provide research services for local government member submitted requests. Topics can range from pressing issues to emerging trends. This benefit is made possible through our partnership with Arizona State University Marvins Andrews Fellowship

Request Prompt:

"To take a look at the standards of innovation districts, through looking at those that exist already and examining emerging trends with the development of new innovation districts. While also searching for the housing issues that are associated with these developments and how the cities are addressing these concerns."

Summary of Findings: 

Through my research, I was able to come to some conclusions. The definition of innovation districts is broad enough for there to be diversity amongst the areas we see designated as such.  The terms that exist are either innovation districts or innovation zones. Cities are able to approach the creation of these regions in different ways such as private-public partnerships, designating an outside lead on the project, or even creating city lead innovation teams taking this issue on full force.  The research was able to demonstrate that there has been great strides and momentum from the areas that established innovation districts in the past 2 years or 10 years. Others that are emerging are in the more beginning stages of development. Overlapping trends include the coexistence of smart cities with their plans for innovation districts as the ideas go hand in hand with development. In the name of innovation, there is great creativity emerging in the solutions and imagination for these districts that have been created. It seemed that this subject is only growing, and will be picking up traction in the coming years, expanding the number of areas with designated innovation districts. 

Background Research:

The following are case study examples of Cities with designated innovation districts, or similar projects.

Las Vegas  

Named Innovation district in 2016: what has happened since? 

  • Launched a first ever driverless public transport in the US January 2017 (test run) 

  • Audi car to network infrastructure to link the car to lights and know when and how long until a light will change 

  • Making a name for itself as a leader of Smart City technology- a smart city innovator if you will 

  • Leveraged CES as a key in their role for testing these new technologies 

  • Policy allowing for innovation to occur 

Las Vegas City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring its downtown to be an “innovation district.” That gives Bowers and city staff the authority to craft policies and procedures necessary to pave the way for those companies to test out emerging technologies in the city’s tourism core.Nevada was the first state to formally allow autonomous vehicles to drive on its public roads after it passed legislation in 2011.  


Smart City 

The city of Las Vegas is testing new technologies in a half-dozen different areas: 

General public safety, Traffic management, Parking, Intelligent lighting and trash, Autonomous vehicles, Environmental 

The Innovation District, launched last year, is a technological testing ground spanning a large swath of downtown Las Vegas. The city is working with companies like Cisco, Hitachi, Motion loft and Numina to test traffic and environmental sensors, cameras and autonomous vehicles. 


 Michael Sherwood 702-229-6291 

 Chief Innovation Officer 


Pittsburg, PA 

Project name: Eco Innovation District 

This is a neighborhood revitalization project that they plan to take place an area that usually has been left out of already existing technology and economic development. It is a connector community between the two bustling areas of Pittsburgh. They have actually included community participation and plans to address the housing needs and other income disparity issues that have come with the other areas getting more attention in the past. Though the direct innovation of business won’t be centered in this area it will be an important part of the larger cities overall growth and a good combination of various smart city and sustainable development practices.  

Planning office: 412.255.2219 

Private partner lead 

Interface-studio 215-925-5595 


Chatanooga, TN 

Began in 2015 

Chattanooga has built strategically on three critical assets—quality place making, unusual anchor institutions, and a highly collaborative innovation ecosystem.   

Chattanooga is the first mid-sized city with an established Innovation District. In addition to designing spaces specifically for workers and companies in the new knowledge economy, Chattanooga’s Innovation District provides easy access to other assets enjoyed by those working in the districts including coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, and multimodal transportation. 

City offers up old properties to be used for affordable housing in innovation district 

New plan calls for affordable housing 


Alliance Members creating Innovation Districts 

Phoenix, AZ: 



Project Title: PHX Core 

PHX Core overlaps parts of both downtown and the Warehouse District. It is bounded roughly to the north by Garfield Street, to the south by Hadley Street, to the west by 2nd Avenue, and to the east by 7th Street. PHX Core is anchored by the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, ASU Downtown Campus and Galvanize—each with distinct economic attributes.  

To combat the crowding out of affordable housing in Downtown phx, which is the main hub of the core, they are trying to be revitalizing downtown adjacent neighborhoods, one major project is through the choice neighborhood grant which they were awarded this year to rebuild one of their oldest projects 


Durham, NC: 


Project Title: DurhamID 

Right now, the city is ill-equipped to handle the housing problem. Durham doesn’t have a robust affordable-housing program or the ability to incentivize—or force—builders to make housing affordable in the way that other cities going through similar changes do. The city, for instance, doesn’t have inclusionary zoning laws, which would require that developers building new housing or doing big rehabilitations on old buildings make a portion of the new units affordable. And Johnson says that Durham also lacks strong rent-control regulation, which would prevent the cost of a unit from climbing astronomically over a short period of time. The result is a massive amount of demand for a dwindling supply of lower-priced housing.  

Affordable housing trying to increase fund by getting money from new developers bringing in other projects. 

The Triangle:

In conjunction with economic growth in the Triangle, there has been an increase in housing prices, causing mid to low income families who want to buy starter homes to look elsewhere. It is pushing them out the area that the business and jobs are growing in. 

The jobs for blue collar people who used to work more labor jobs in the area are not so happy with the boom in Durham. The city planned the revitalization but didn’t seem to account for affordable housing. Tensions have risen, Wilson-Hartgrove says, as white neighbors have moved in and policing in the area has increased; the young black and Latino men say they’re being harassed and white residents say they don’t always feel safe. Then there’s the issue of whether or not the populations that have historically inhabited this neighborhood will be able to stay put. 

The need for affordable housing is evident, but while many cities have programs that offer tax incentives or density bonuses for including affordable housing, Durham doesn’t have a concrete affordable-housing plan.  


Boston’s Innovation District has brought more than 5,000 new jobs to the area since 2010. But how sustainable is the clustering concept when the public sector takes a hands-off approach and the rent skyrockets. Boston’s Seaport was in a state of transformation. More than 5,000 new jobs have been created in the Innovation District since 2010, as over 200 startups have set up shop in the area. About a quarter of these firms have fewer than 10 employees, and approximately 40 percent are housed in shared workspaces or incubators. proximity matters perhaps more than ever for invention and innovation.” Yet the sustainability of the District as a geographic hub of innovation as it was initially conceived remains in question as high-end new developments crowd out early stage entrepreneurial activities.

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